New Zealand’s #1 tourist attraction, this small city is a slice of urbanity etched into a rugged land. Located at the bend of Lake Wakatipu in the heart of the Southern Alps, Queenstown is a four seasons resort town. Ski all winter, tramp all summer, and spend the whole year indulging on the extreme in this, the “adventure capital of the world.”
While the parks of Rotorua are pricey and exceedingly commercial, there are few places in the world where you can find such a display of geothermal wonders. Try the Waimangu Volcanic Valley or Wai-O-Tapu (both twenty minutes south of the city center) for the most spectacular displays of volcanic activity. If you have some extra time, several nearby museums and attractions showcase this area’s rich Māori history and culture.
#8 Marlborough Wine Country
Just south of the Marlborough Sounds is New Zealand’s largest wine region. Know the world over for its outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough is New Zealand’s biggest brand. Stop in the iSight in Blenheim for a comprehensive guide to the areas wineries and hop on a bike to cycle through the vineyards, sampling the Savs as you go.
New Zealand’s first National Park, Tongariro is not easily described. Part desert, part snow-capped volcano, part forest, this World Heritage area is a showcase of microclimates. Go for a ski on Mt Ruapehu’s volcanic slopes or hike along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand’s greatest day trek in the summer. Either way, Tongariro National Park is your best bet for a taste of alpine adventure on the North Island.
#6 Abel Tasman National Park
Home to New Zealand’s most popular “Great Walk,” this park is a summertime dream. Tramp from one secluded beach to another until you find the perfect spot of golden sand to call your own. Comfortable huts and boutique lodges make this multi-day hike suitable to those of any fitness level but if you’re not up for the walk, simply hop on a water taxi from Marahau and pick your destination. Even better, hire out a Kayak and paddle your own path along the emerald coast.
While most travel to New Zealand for it’s beautiful landscape, Wellington is the one city not to miss. Forget Auckland, Wellington is not only the administrative, but also the cultural capital of the country. Its museums, shows, bars, and clubs blow Auckland out of the water. Recently rated the best compact capital in the world by Lonely Planet, Wellington may be small, but it has more bars and cafes per capita than New York City.
#4 Milford Road
Sometimes it’s not about the destination but the journey. For Milford Sound, it’s both! Skirting the edge of Fiordland, this road saddles the edge of Lake Te Anau before rising through the Homer Tunnel and descending into the shadow of Mitre Peak. Countless scenic pull-overs threaten to drain your camera battery far before you make it to New Zealand’s famous fiord.
Where Aucklanders come out to play, Coromandal is the pristine peninsula on the far side of the Hauraki Gulf. Rugged coastline and sweeping aquamarine beaches await beyond the inner forests of Coromandal’s core. Head out to the hot sand beach or Cathedral Cove on the eastern shores or stay in a quaint B&B on the rugged west.
#2 Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
If the West Coast of the South Island is not on your itinerary, change it. Neighboring Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers cut through the sub-tropical rainforest of the wet West Coast creating a dramatic landscape of contrasts. One minute you are in Jurassic Park, the next minute, Ice Age. If you are lucky enough to visit on a clear day, these easily accessible glaciers will truly astound.
#1 Mt Cook National Park
The desolate Mt Cook National Park is a beautiful kind of Hell. Home to the country’s highest peaks, this land of rock and ice embodies the Kiwi spirit of adventure. A multitude of trails cover the glacial river valleys and daring mountaineers camp out below to seek new heights. Make sure to stock up on petrol, food and supplies in Twizle before taking the long road out to this DOC-run township.
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